IN CHOOSING LUTENITSA, AJVAR, PROCESSED AND CREAM CHEESE
Lutenista, ajvar, processed and cream cheese are part of the menu of most Bulgarians. The known flavor is the first and most important criterion, but the (un)healthy ingredients of the products are starting to play a major role when choosing.
Healthy lifestyle, including the change in eating habits towards low-calorie foods with natural ingredients, no artificial additives and less preservatives, is continuing to gain even more traction during the last decade. This has resulted in clearer, greener labels. Many of the big players on the market now offer organic or “better for your health” options. This new trend could be explained through the increased interest in the quality of products and the possible negative health effects, more specific the alarming obesity rates among the population.
It is expected from companies to modify their strategies, to adapt to the more educated consumers who demand the best. Bulgaria is not an exception when it comes to this trend, with the ever-changing needs of the population leaving a mark on every product category. The question now is to what extent companies are ready to change their ways in light of this new trend.
BODY MASS INDEX
Body mass index (BMI) is one of the most widely used indicators of nutritional status among the world population. The height and weight are necessary in order to calculate individual BMI scores. There are four major categories – underweight, normal weight, overweight and obesity*. High BMI has been considered a risk factor for numerous health problems. It is important to note that BMI has its limitations, but taking into account its widespread use, we can say with moderate confidence that BMI is an overall good indicator of nutritional status.
The analysis of our data shows that regardless of the BMI status consumers try to eat healthy most or all of the time. The desire to lead a healthier life is an admirable goal to have, but as we can see the behavior of the consumers sometimes contradicts their statements. We will now examine in detail if there are similar contradictions in the four product categories – lutenitsa, ajvar, processed cheese and cream cheese.
ABSOLUTE DOMINANCE OF THE BULGARIAN LUTENITSA
Lutenitsa is more than a food product – it is a childhood memory, the smell of past summers at the grandparents’ house, a part of the family tradition of preparing the winter food. This could be seen in the spontaneous answers to the word “lutenitsa”. Following the vegetables needed for the preparation of the famous Bulgarian dish, the predominant answers are related to autumn, childhood and family – proof of the strong emotional nature of the product category.
In a market, abundant in brands, the main criterion for choosing lutenitsa for two thirds of consumers is the known flavor. It is not surprising that local companies play a crucial role for a significant portion of the consumers (more than 30%) when it comes to choosing a brand, especially when we are analyzing a product so closely intertwined with the Bulgarian identity. It turns out that the ingredients are as important as the Bulgarian aspect in the eyes of the consumers. According to a considerable part (32%) of the target audience, the natural ingredients, the lack of artificial food coloring and the low sugar content are all instrumental when buying lutenitsa.
Despite the plethora of brands on the market, the biggest players remain “Deroni” and “Olinesa”, while approximately half of consumers either do not point to a specific favorite brand or prefer the home-made alternatives. The situation with the next product category is not very different.
AJVAR – A RIVAL TO LUTENITSA THAT SHOULD NOT BE IGNORED?
In the past couple of years a new rival to the seemingly unshakable lutenitsa has set foot on the Bulgarian market – the ajvar. Having a similar flavor and ingredients, this variant of vegetable chutney is argued to originate from various Balkan countries. The product category is rather unfamiliar to the regular consumer and this is further demonstrated in the most popular spontaneous mentions which pertain to the ingredients, the country of origin (Serbia or North Macedonia), and for a considerable section of the target audience ajvar is seen as a type of lutenitsa.
This uncertainty and lack of familiarity with the product category is best observed when it comes to favourite brands. The portion of consumers that have yet to place their loyalty in a specific brand is the greatest (41%). It seems that in moments of doubt, when the known flavor could not be a factor, consumers prefer to turn to friends’ recommendations and the healthier alternatives on the market.
PROCESSED CHEESE – FLAVOR TRUMPS EVERYTHING
For the majority of consumers processed cheese is most often spontaneously associated with the first (and according to some the most important) meal of the day – breakfast. Closely related are the next in popularity mentions which include slice of bread, sandwich and bread. For the first time there are negative associations concerning the (un)healthy aspect of the product – high in calories, oily and artificial. Furthermore, processed cheese goes hand in hand with fast foods like pizza, fried and cheese appetizers.
The impact of the different attitudes is also noticeable in the way the target audience acts during shopping. Not much different to the product category lutenitsa the most crucial factor is the known flavor by a majority of consumers (62%). Only a third regards habits and affordable price as the next in importance. The healthy characteristics of the product come in fourth place with 16%.
Despite the fact that consumers themselves describe processed cheese as relatively high in calories, they rarely take those negatives into account when making a choice. It is a matter of time until the target audience decides to find a similar product that does not cause those conflicting feelings and instead offers a delicious low-calorie alternative.
The market of processed cheese is moderately concentrated. The first 3 favorite brands in the category are “Philadelphia”, “Prеsident” and “Lactima” – they are the ones that capture the hearts of consumers in 40% of the cases. “Philadelphia” is mentioned in this food category as well, indication that consumers’ definitions of cream cheese and processed cheese often overlap. Analogous to the previous two product categories the portion of consumers that do not have a favorite brand is considerable – 30%.
CREAM CHEESE – LIGHT IT SHALL BE
Breakfast, sandwich, cheesecake and slice of bread – these are the first things that the target audience thinks about when it hears the words “cream cheese”. Despite the relative agreement between consumers, for some Bulgarians there is a clear distinction between traditional Bulgarian cream cheese offered in foil and the softer, more cream-like variants offered in a plastic box. This can be concluded when we analyze the comments from our research study. One of the reasons could be the wider range of non-Bulgarian brands on the market as well as the lack of official definition specifying the content of cream cheese. As a result Bulgarians have a plethora of products laid out in front of them that have the same name but have different characteristics.
This uncertainty steers two thirds of consumers towards known flavor when it comes to cream cheese. Contrary to the product category processed cheese the low-calorie alternatives are preferred with more than 20% of consumers declaring that the healthy component is vital when shopping. For the fans of cream cheese the local (Bulgarian) brands do not have a significant advantage over foreign companies. On the contrary, “Philadelphia” is the key player on the market, concurring the minds and hearts of 32% of consumers. Once again we see a substantial part (27%) of the target audience showing reluctance when it comes to choosing a favorite brand. It seems that it is very hard to win over the Bulgarian consumer although positive past experience does have an impact when it comes to shopping in all four product categories.
When it comes to high consumption frequency per BMI** score, lutenista is the undisputable favorite among the target audience who have higher than normal weight. Half of consumers eat this traditional Bulgarian product at least once a week. The concerns stemming from their physical condition could possibly lead consumers towards healthier options of their favorite foods. The potential for a higher demand of “better for your health” products is also evident in the cases of cream and processed cheese – products that are consumed once every week by at least of one third of the target audience with BMI over 25.
We can conclude that the health and wellness trend is a complex phenomenon which has a significant impact on the above mentioned product categories. It is very likely that this tendency towards healthier ingredients and lighter versions of products will become bigger with time, thus further shaping consumers’ mindset about what they consume and what they want in general.
*In this article we have used the BMI ranges indicated by the World Health Organization.
**The group of people who are underweight are not shown on the graph since they do not consume any of the four products at least once a week.
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